"I'm not a (insert adjective) person."
Any of those sound familiar? I've said the above words a million times about a number of things that I believed about myself. "I'm not a morning person." "I can't focus before lunch." "I can't write until I get the other nagging tasks checked off my To Do list." "I don't have time to exercise."
I believed all of those things to be absolute truth. I'm sure you've said some of those types of things to yourself, too. We all do. What's the big deal?
Well, the big deal is that those simple beliefs could be standing in the way of what you want.
As you probably know, if you follow this blog at all, I'm slightly obsessed with habits and how to improve my productivity. Part of it is because I was a psych major and it fascinates me. But the other part is because I want to be able to write faster, have more family time, be more efficient, be successful, etc. In order words, DO ALL THE THINGS and not lose my mind in the process. Lol.
If you've missed any of what's come before and are interested, here are some of the posts:
- 7 Things to Reduce Distraction and Increase Focus
- 4 Books That Changed Me from Lifelong Messy Girl to Getting my S**t Together (Mostly)
- Creating Mottos for Your Year and Your Sanity
- Don't Just Make a Plan: The Benefits of Tracking Your Time
- 7 Reasons Why I Use a Paper Planner
- Personality Types and To Do Lists
So this month, I took a class with author Becca Syme called Write Better Faster. It was a month-long class and it turned out to be one of the best classes I've ever taken. The premise of the class is basically that the way we get things done is very much based on our personality types. That's why some methods totally resonate with some people and for others, the methods don't work at all. In the writing world, the easiest example is how plotters (writers who plan out their story in detail before they start writing) and pansters (writers who write by the seat of their pants, which is what I am) never see eye to eye. Plotters can't understand how we can just wing a whole book. And we can't understand how someone can do a scene-by-scene outline and not be bored and lose all interest in actually writing the book afterward. Neither way is wrong. Our brains are just wired differently.
Well, the same goes for productivity and habits. Different methods are going to work for differently wired brains.
What I Learned AKA The Epiphany
1. Yes, some things ARE ingrained as part of our personality and we need to learn to work with our unique self and not try to force ourselves into methods that work for other people but may not work for us. THERE IS NO ONE TRUE WAY FOR ALL and don't trust someone who tells you there is.
2. Some things that we BELIEVE are unchangeable truths about ourselves really aren't and should not be held sacred because they are just getting in our way and keeping us stuck in whatever bad routine/habit/cycle we're trying to change.
Now, looking at these two, they seem like they could be opposites. In a way, they are. But both are true. And both were important points for me to get in my head. The second one, in particular, resonated with me because what I believed to be true about myself was part of what was holding me back.
Here's what I'm talking about. In one of the posts linked above, I said this...
"for me that means I should probably schedule low intensity things in the morning when I know I'll be less likely to be writing/editing. Social media updates, responding to comments, answering email, etc."
I said that because I had tracked my time and discovered that I was easily distracted in the morning and wasn't getting writing done until the afternoon, so I concluded that my creative time was in the afternoon. I then scheduled my day to get non-writing tasks out of the way in the morning. Makes sense, right?
Yeah. Well. Here's how that played out. I did all the not-so-important things in the morning. They ALWAYS got done. Then the important work--writing--I started around noon. That would give me three hours of "deep work" time to get my writing done for the day before my son came home.
Well, how'd that go?
Result #1: Many times I'd get to the afternoon writing slot and I was too tired/distracted. (Probably because of attention residue. I'd been bouncing around little tasks all morning like a hyper puppy and my brain is all *ooh, squirrel* still.) I couldn't get into the flow of writing until 1 or 2pm, and then I only got a solid hour of real writing done before it was time to pick up my son from school.
Result #2: Or, when I was actually able to get into writing mode, by the time I hit stride and was firing on all cylinders, it was time for school pick up. Then, I'd break the flow to pick up my son and then come back and stare at the screen, uninspired and distracted again.
Well, in the Write Better Faster class, Becca suggested we try getting the most important task of the day done first (kind of the eat the frog theory). And she said if you have to get up early to do it, do that.
My knee-jerk response:
I'm NOT a morning person and my creative time doesn't kick in until the afternoon. It's just how I'm built.
These are things I believed whole-heartedly to be true.
Yeah, no. Turns out, they're not. They're just uncomfortable and different. Different is scary and my brain was like NOPE.
But turns out, I'm perfectly capable of getting up earlier. And I discovered (so far since this is new) that when I sit down at my desk and insist that I WRITE WORDS FIRST, it works. Yes, it does take me a while to get in that headspace (as it does in the afternoon). But as long as I sit there reading through what I've written the day before and avoid the email/internet/whatever distractions, the words eventually come. THEN when I hit a good flow...Oh surprise, it's only 10 or 11am! I still have HOURS left to write.
That way, before I pick up kidlet, the hard stuff is done. When I get back, I can now focus on the less important things like social media and email. That doesn't take as much brain power, so it's easily done after I've worked all day. And mentally, I feel less stressed and more accomplished. When the writing doesn't get done, the stress of that bleeds over into the rest of the night. When I've hit that word count, the rest of the night is free of that angst.
What to Try If You're Wanting a Change
So, my challenge to you if you're struggling with your routine, habits, or productivity is this: Don't hold anything sacred. Think hard on if something is the way you're wired or just a preference you've developed that has developed into a "truth" you believe about yourself. Sometimes the only way to figure that out is to outright challenge it. Try some new routine. Try getting up earlier. Change up your process. Give it a little time to see if it works because ANY change is going to be uncomfortable at the start. Resistance will be strong.
On the flip side, there are some things that are hard-wired and you have to learn to accept and work with them. For instance, I have always wanted to be a faster writer. I've taken a lot of different classes and have read books on how to do that. And though I've improved my word count from very early on, I've hit a point where my general output is about the same. So am I stuck with this word count?
Well, in this class, I discovered the answer is yes and no. I figured out that my deal-breaker is sacrificing quality. I'm a perfectionist and "good enough" is not an option for me when it comes to a book. I had a visceral reaction at the idea of good enough when the topic was brought up in class. (Now, note, I'm not saying fast writers can't produce quality work. Some are wired to be fast and produce their best work writing quickly. But that is not me.)
So if I'm not willing to sacrifice quality, and quality (for me) takes time, I have to figure out how to create more time to write instead of trying to figure out how to get more words per hour. I also have to be at peace with my process, which involves reading through the draft many, many times and tweaking as I'm writing--which some writing books will tell you is a big no-no (the editing-as-you-go method) but that's how I get more ideas and flesh out the story. It's time-consuming but it's how my stories get written and how my brain works.
However, that doesn't mean I can't get what I want--more words/more books. It just means I need to structure my day to create more time to write and devote less time to non-writing tasks. So like I mentioned above, instead of limiting it to 3 hours in the afternoon, I give myself the full day to write and up my word count. That may mean I have to sacrifice getting an "A+" in social media, promoting, returning every email promptly, etc. Something has to give somewhere. And part of that is unseating "truths" I believed about myself.
And if you're not a writer, this still can apply to other aspects of your life if you're trying to change a habit or your productivity level or whatever it may be. Don't shut out ideas because you think "oh that's not me" or "I could never do that" without digging deeper and examining if it's really a hard truth about you or just a preference you can challenge.
Some ideas to start
1. Write down what you want to change or improve and pick one to focus on. (Eat better, get more done, be more organized, start a side business, whatever.)
2. List the reasons why you think you're not accomplishing what you want. (i.e. I want to exercise, but why don't I? What's stopping me? <--some of your beliefs will come out from asking this. Some may be true. Many others will be barriers you could change if you challenge them.)
3. Challenge your answers to the questions from number two. Put those beliefs on a hot seat and cross-examine them. ("I can't get up early to write because I'm not a morning person." --okay, how do you know that? Have you ever tried to get up earlier on a consistent basis? Would you rather stay up 'til one and get what you want done (because that's an option if it appeals to you and you're truly a night person but if neither appeal--which was my case--then maybe it's just resistance and could try it out.)
4. Make a plan to change one thing for a set amount of time and see how it works. (Change too many and you'll probably get frustrated and burnt out. But try one and focus on that. The good news is that if you give it a real shot and it doesn't work, you can just try something else and now you know.)
Those are just a few ideas and this post has gone way long already, lol, but let me know if you try any of this. I'll keep you updated on my progress. Fingers crossed it continues to work for me and I'll have many books flying out of my fingertips. :) And if you ever see Becca's class being offered again and you're a writer, go take it!
Have you ever had something you believed to be absolutely true about yourself turned on its head? Have you ever successfully changed a routine or habit that wasn't working for you? How'd you do it?